Tag Archives: méthode ancestrale

sunlight catchers

It is the simplest things that make all the difference. Getting closer to the original source works too. The Japanese tea ceremony is an example. Soaking at a remote hot spring you’ve spent the day hiking into is more what I mean. I always have thought street theater to be one of the simplest performing art forms, artist-audience…the experience. That’s all, nothing extra is needed, nothing more is added, a street show is complete in every sense. Stripping down until you are touching the essence is a specific cognitive pleasure. The exquisite nature of being pleased by simplicity is not uncommon. The temporal coordinates within our mind, the pleasure center where the appreciation for what is the best least complicated experience can be navigated to again and again once you have recalibrated, once you understand the nature of satisfaction and fulfillment.

After morning coffee, appreciating how good the day promised to be, then scanning my surroundings for signs of fascists, white supremacists, or Confederate flags (luckily there were none) I rolled to Amador City.

A longtime friend and I drove out east of Plymouth to the Shenandoah Valley. This is the wine country part of the Mother Lode. Not all the miners struck it rich but there were barrels of wine, companions to sweet talk, rich or poor there was fun to be found scattered between the gold nuggets. Ancient zinfandel vines are still here even if all the gold in the world is now long gone.

The Croatian winemakers Milan and Victoria Matulich arrived here in the valley back in 1995. By 1997 they had a tasting room and wine cave completed and Dobra Zemlja Vineyard was born. The immigrant winemakers planted viognier, grenache, sangiovese, barbera, syrah and zinfandel. The valley’s ground consists of volcanic Sierra Series soils – primarily sandy clay loam derived from decomposed granite. Think about struggle, how a vine might produce a dwarfed berry, how coming of age, reaching maturity might best happen if you can build character into the journey. Granite and volcanic rock offers this obstacle to a grapevine’s personality.   

From the start the immigrant old world winemakers wanted to make natural wines. Wild yeast is very much part of the story. The Shenandoah Valley yeast found growing on the batch of grapes harvested directly from the field is the only yeast that will do. The natural winemaker uses the indigenous local wild yeast for fermentation. I’ve always had an irrational faith in the notion of symbiosis. I like the idea that there are mutual beneficial pairings to be found in nature. The wild yeasts found on the skin of the grapes turns the grape juice to wine by consuming the sugars and transforming them into alcohol. The wild yeast imparts its own specific aromas and flavors. Modern winemakers will add various laboratory derived yeasts aiming to take their wines to an altogether different specific destination. There is no good or bad here, simply different, natural wines tend to meander like a lazy river, modern wines are built to come charging at full force arriving with a louder bang, pop, and purpose. Natural wines exist down at the level of village, conventional wines aspire to command the lofty heights of nations, states and world.

Natural winemakers speak in the idiom of understatement, they do not make wines that overwhelm, of course that’s the aim, controlling the whelming, dialing your offering into the target zone doesn’t always quite work out that way. Remaining faithful to the fruits character, bringing out its identity, letting the hint of the specific dirt and soil interact with the grapes, that’s the way, this is the pleasure. I like that there is no official definition for what is in or not in a bottle of natural wine. Perhaps it is a winemaker’s faith and courage to not intervene and let the field of grapes speak with its own specific voice.

In a world that is increasingly more and more complicated the adventure found in drinking a simple glass of natural wine is something akin to playing a favorite song off of a vinyl record. Natural wine is about letting go of your bike’s handlebars, it is a revisiting of our analogue world, this is wine that can bark or bite, they are wines that can play cute or play dead, you’ll never know your wine for sure, natural wine is nothing if not fickle, like skydiving landing sites are approximate, they are unpredictable and temperamental, natural wines appeal to our desire to be taken somewhere we have never been.

I like that here in the American West there is a place open to immigrants, Croatian’s, from the Balkans, arriving to make a fresh start, newcomers arriving to risk their daring and do.

There are two merchants that specialize in natural wines in Oakland: Ordinaire and Minimo both focus on small production, sustainable, indie wines from around the world. Terms like biodynamic farming methods or that the grapes are certified organic does not always indicate that what you are buying will be a natural wine. The technique has more to do with minimalism, no added sulfites is the goal, there is no filtering or finning, the less meddling the better. None of the 60 additives approved by regulators are used to make natural wine. The tradition of natural winemaking is sometimes referred to as “méthode ancestrale” and as the terms suggest has been around since the beginning. In its simplest form natural wine is unadulterated fermented grape juice, that’s it, that’s the long and short of the simplicity that is sought.    

Then, there is the wicked tasty dazzling category of sparkling natural wines. Here you will enter the world of fermentation that utilizes the ancient method that the French term ‘pétillant naturel’ meaning ‘natural sparkling’— Uncorking a Pét-Nat is always an adventure as these are wines that have spent their lives coming of age in a bottle, alone, separated from inception, left to ripen to maturity, to take form without a clue to how its kin has done, whether each bottle will be alike or how no two bottles will ever be the same. Pét-Nat’s are bewildering and unbridled. They are either glorious or have gone wrong, the balancing act to achieving a drinkable Pét-Nat is a bottle of uncertainty discovered almost by sheer audacity to blunder into the sublime. You’ll need pluck and a soul of fool’s errand to build a Pet-Nat.

Dobra Zemlja, (pronounced — Zem ya) will release their first Pét-Nat this December. The ancient sparkler’s can come dry or off dry, acidic, floral to sour, my favorites seem to arrive at their destination zigzagging through my mouth, like four friends all careening in a car, the point of the thing is that it is a collection of impressions that act like a thrill ride or when it goes the other way, you’ll be eager to pull over to the side of the road and get off. Most important is to go into the thing admitting these are not serious endeavors, Pét-Nat’s are flights into the wild blue yonder of something so close to ordinary as to make the experience a vivid simple pleasure.

Laura Irmer is the General Manager for Dobra Zemlja. Surrounded by other wineries, their competitors, all in pursuit of making big reds there is this sense at Dobra Zemlja of a winery seeking to bring to market a wine that is a true expression of what is found right here, a sense of individuality, a sense of allowing for an experience that is in direct contact with the vine and soil, a sort of direct transmission of the experience we know as wine.

My palate has shifted. I crave natural wines whispers of the fantastical, for small and simple, for being yourself. Perfection can taunt beauty. Striving for reality, for making what is found right here, is more poem that prose, more from the heart than the head. Natural wine appeals to my wanting to get away, to go places I’ve never been, to being content to experience a less visited destination. Natural wines are the wild hot springs of the spa and sauna, they are the flirtatious eye contact, the one only time you will meet, they are your courage, timidity, the haunting aching memories of a love affair, they are down to earth, truth, these original wines invite you to meet in the nude, without dressing up, without pretense, here is another possible opportunity to taste a winemaker’s language written in grapes, these sunlight catchers create wine that speaks of what it means to let nature take its course.  

plant-based bullionaire

Fake Fish Swimming with Invisible Pink Elephants

Grizzled whiskey drinking desperados that run their high horse my way can find themselves ambushed when what I carry in my saddlebags comes to light. After a good long run of roast beef, mash potatoes and berry pie alamode change has come to this slicker’s campfire.

You might be a living breathing voting Democrat, or you could be a lowdown useless card-carrying member of the Communist Party but that is of little concern here in the partisan highlands of this blog. If by some odd chance you find yourself an under assault omnivore, perhaps some sort of wishy-washy pescatarian, maybe you are one of those mostly vegetarian types, heaven help you if you are, then I’ve a few choice words to roil the waters at the start of this new decade.  

The Heat is On

I had a rendezvous with my cholesterol destiny three years back. The expiration date on eating whatever the hell I damn well pleased had been term limited out. Took some digging to separate the dietary facts from the do your thing fiction. Basically, I had a statin prescribed future dead ahead unless I changed what I had been putting on my table.

Behavior is a driver. Job one was getting my head out of the way, so my stomach had a shot at getting in touch with its better digestive juices. You have to take a fearless look around inside the inner cookie jar, see the messy rising sea of desire for what it is then you are able to set off on a journey to a lifetime of whole food plant-based deliciousness. I know that last sentence sounds like an impossibility wrapped in an atheist pretending to be a Catholic but come let’s think together beyond the boundaries of mule-headedness and non-Viagra induced rigidity.

Rare Incident, Group Whole Food Plant Based Meal

Started out on my journey first thing I went on the wagon. No booze. Clear the sky, see the sober truth, get comfortable in your own bones. The alcohol reset button helped. We’ve since switched this button back to on, but to show mercy to my liver this switch is not been swung wide open. Think of this tactic as involuntary moderation.

Pétillant Naturel, or Pét-Nat, for short… The méthode ancestrale was originally used in Limoux in the south of France in the early 16th century

Next, kick the meat, fish and poultry out. Three months later dairy is banished.  If you do all of this, you have now landed your spaced-ship on the world of whole food plant based egg free eats. But, wait their buckaroo there’s more misery than a rattlesnake bite dead ahead. You dial back the salt and sugar. Cocky about all these fetes of discipline, deluded as ever, thinking you are done, but no, there’s a horse to break and cow to punch. That mirage shatters with a glimpse of your profile in a full-length mirror. That oil free cooking pan, a scan pan, you go out and get one of those pieces of metropolitan high dollar cookware. Nobody said it would be easy or cheap. Getting your weight down is in part a devious means of lightening that load in your wallet.

Sophisticated Potatoes

The good news is that with a little effort, patience and sticking to it you’ll get satiated when eating whole food plant-based grub. After some considerable practice when a meal lands in my stomach I can hear that caloric signal in my head loud and clear. Takes about two months in solitary whole food plant-based confinement to get there. The only other hell on earth near as awful to a man might be his banishment to a sofa in the living room on account of his being insensitive when not listening to every word of guidance coming from his agitated mirror to his soul.

Back to behavioral challenges (this is where the rubber meets the road.) Around other delicate appetite out of control souls I have found a profound sea of gustatory tumult. No Darwinian survival of the fittest creature eats food based upon the science. People eat by stomach driven passions. You get in the way of another man’s inner pork chop and you may find yourself bacon wrapped, deep fried and relegated to the garbage disposal of relationships.

Scratch Made Ramen

Whole food plant-based eating can be tasty, fun and healthy for you. First things first you will want to know is that there is considerably more chopping and chewing involved. Takes some practice to prepare enough variety of recipes to achieve escape velocity, to travel to the world of variety versus being stuck in the rut of dietary sameness.

Once word spreads you are a whole food plant-based eating broccoli lobbing extremist you’ll have to put knee pads on and beg your way into your friends’ social calendar and all those exclusive dinner parties you once enjoyed. You’ll wake up and come to the heartbreaking realization you are no longer invited on over for weekend barbecues. Waitresses will do what they can, but you would be surprised to learn how few people know in the strictest sense what whole food plant-based eating entails. The cheese and bacon on everything crowd learns real’ quick that preparing meals without these animal-based food groups renders their talent for cooking to the rear of the chow wagon and their hash slinging is essentially unpalatably uninhabitable.

Whole Food Plant Based People

Those old duds in the closet you couldn’t throw away all of sudden fit you again. Life is pretty good even if you are lonely now on account of your no longer believing you have any right to eating all that honey those bees worked so hard to store in their hive. Being kind doesn’t have to be limited to your dog, cat or parakeet. Doesn’t advice like that just get right under your skin? I’m still working up having strong feelings for silkworms. Spiders in my neighborhood I’ll tell you they do breathe easier these days. Mosquitoes still got it pretty tough in these parts, but then I just can’t see my way to giving termites a pass either. Did I tell you about my earthworms and ladybugs? I even like malignant narcissists but the truth is I’ve never been able to finish a whole one.